Bad Spell

Don’t Go Out Tonight…
Unless You’re Bad Spell Bound, That Is

It’s bound to happen. Those of us whose lives closely orbit the rock ‘n’ roll scene (such as it may be) of any particular city or town, well, if your enthusiasm for it doesn’t fade and you manage to avoid getting married and popping out kids, the older you get you’re going to have less and less friends in your age range that are able to or even want to keep doing it like they used to in their twenties and thirties. Put bluntly, they grew up, got real jobs, got lives/wives and became adults, while the rest of us over here in Rockville are still out actin’ the fool until three in the morning multiple nights a week, either playing in or seeing rock bands, or both.

Such considerations entered into conversations Bryan Malone and Shane Pringle were having with each other three years ago, as both were reaching their late forties. “Everybody’s getting kind of older, and having kids, and people aren’t able to play as much,” acknowledges Malone, whose primary musical outlet, the Forty-Fives, had pretty much petered out by that point. “Shane and I were talking about how we just wanted to play more shows.”

Or, as Pringle puts it, laughing: “We were the last two guys at the bar.”

So, they took the logical step and started their own band in the summer of 2016 – Bad Spell – one Bryan clarifies as their “first focused effort” after previously playing together in Grinder Nova and Jade Lemons & the Crimson Lust, both of which were large ensembles steered by others.

“We also decided to keep it a three-piece,” points out Malone, the band’s guitarist and vocalist, “because the fewer members that were in the band, the less people could say no.”

Pringle, who sings and plays baritone guitar and tenor sax in Bad Spell, notes that “after filling in some shows with the Subsonics and doing some touring with them, I was like, a three piece is the way to go! So much less bullshit.”

“Three-piece band, small amps, we got no bass,” says Malone, adding that “now when we play and get paid $30, it’s an easy split!”

The third wheel in Bad Spell’s careening sonic slingshot is drummer extraordinaire and playboy about town Pietro DiGennaro (Midnight Larks, The Booze, Black Linen), who’s fifteen years the junior of Malone and Pringle, though he claims, “I can’t keep up with them!”

“We liked his style of playing,” Malone says of DiGennaro. “Manic energy.” Which is an understatement.

“They pretty much come up with a guitar riff, and let me do whatever the hell I want. And I absolutely love it,” says DiGennaro. “It gives me an excuse to play the drums like I want to play the drums. In a lot of other bands I feel like I’ve been holding back a bit.”

There’s no holding back in Bad Spell. DiGennaro’s not positioned back in the rear like most drummers – as Pringle puts it, “Pietro’s the most interesting part to watch, anyway!” So they’re all lined up along the front of the stage, forming an implicit line of offense, a Wall of Rock. It’s an explosive display, with gale force momentum, power and electric energy blasting out in all directions. There’s definitely a late ‘60s sort of MC5/Who element (at their most volatile) mixed with a touch of later garage rock, the more unkempt variety. Malone’s vocals convey an untamed rawness, his guitar slashing with the potential of violence. The lack of bass guitar is not a factor, because Pringle’s six-string baritone guitar actually packs more of a gut-punching wallop. And Pietro is just one of the most untamed and outstanding drummers I’ve ever witnessed. He’s so fun to gaze at in action. In many live photos of Bad Spell, all you really see of Pietro are blurry flailing arms and a huge mass of dark frizzy hair atop his torso – no facial features, just hair. He actually claims to use Mane ‘n Tail, the “not just for horses anymore!” shampoo, to make his mane – which, legend has it, has clogged and disabled many a hot tub – even fuller than normal. It would not surprise me.

Bad Spell’s combustible rock ‘n’ roll recipe has now been documented to tremendous effect on Don’t Go Out Tonight, the trio’s 13-song debut album. It’s a totally local effort, recorded last year at The Living Room on the West Side with Ed Rawls and Justin McNeight. Rod Hamdallah guests on guitar and backing vocals, while both Spencer Garn (the Soulphonics) and Rich Morris (Noot d’Noot) add organ. Sam Leyja (Pringle’s longtime bandmate in Tiger! Tiger!) is releasing the LP on his Midnight Cruiser imprint, with groovy psychedelic cover art by Sarah Burtch. Even the band photos on the insert were taken by some of Atlanta’s better rock ‘n’ roll shot-snappers: Tim Song, Mario Panebianco, Sloan Rainwater, Lisa Reisman.

That said, Bryan, Shane and Pietro say they’re ready to get outta town and take their three-ring circus on the road, now that they have something tangible to sell. Aside from motoring to Florida a couple times and playing New York, Baltimore (DiGennaro’s hometown) and a couple other random places, they’ve mostly stuck to the Atlanta watering holes where both Malone and Pringle have ties – the former has been booking the Star Bar for some ten years, and Pringle is part owner of The EARL.

“If we’re in town, we’ll be at a bar at a show anyway – we might as well be at a bar at a show somewhere else,” Malone points out. “It’s fun to go out and play. I mean, we’re not gonna be doing month-long tours,” noting that in their most active years, if the Forty-Fives “weren’t out for two months [at a time], we didn’t consider it a real thing.”

Asked to sum up their sound in a descriptive sentence or two for anyone new to the party, Pringle puts it thusly: “We’re pretty straightforward. We don’t have some hidden agenda or anything. We’re not the Clash. We’re not very political or anything. It’s pretty straightforward rock ‘n’ roll music to drink beer to.”

Despite Malone’s reiteration that, “It’s more beer powered and less weed powered,” Poppin’ Pietro’s been huffin’ on some potent reefer this whole time, rendering him increasingly incoherent. So naturally, we’ll let him have the last word:

“I think if you’re lookin’ for a band… that is straightforward… uh, rock ‘n’ roll… uh… we’re definitely that.”

Photo by Tim Song.